Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

by some authorities with the modern Mahaban, though this identification was rejected by Dr Stein after an exhaustive survey of Mount Mahaban in 1904. Alexander crossed the Indus at Ohind, 16 m. above Attock, receiving there the submission of the great city of Taxila, which is now represented by miles of ruins near the modern Rawalpindi. Crossing the Hydaspes (Jhelum) he defeated Porus in a great battle, and crossing the Acesines (Chenab) near the foot of the hills and the Hydraotes (Ravi), reached the Hyphasis (Beas). Here he was obliged by the temper of his army to retrace his steps, and retreat to the Jhelum, whence he sailed down the river to its confluence with the Indus, and thence to Patala, probably the modern Hyderabad. From Patala the admiral Nearchos was to sail round the coast to the Euphrates, while Alexander himself marched through the wilds of Gedrosia, or modern Makran. Ultimately, after suffering agonies of thirst in the desert, the army made its way back to the coast at the modern harbour of Pasin, whence the return to Susa in Persia was comparatively easy.

During his two years’ campaign in the Punjab and Sind, Alexander captured no province, but he made alliances, founded cities and planted garrisons. He had transferred much territory to chiefs and confederacies devoted to his cause; every petty court had its Greek faction; and the detachments which he left behind at various positions, from the Afghan frontier to the Beas, and from near the base of the Himalaya to the Sind delta, were visible pledges of his return. At Taxila (Dehri-Shahan) and Nicaea (Mong) in the northern Punjab, at Alexandria (Uchch) in the southern Punjab, at Patala (Hyderabad) in Sind, and at other points along his route, he established military settlements of Greeks or allies. A large body of his troops remained in Bactria; and, in the partition of the empire which followed Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., Bactria and India eventually fell to Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the Syrian monarchy (see Seleucid).

Meanwhile a new power had arisen in India. Among the Indian adventurers who thronged Alexander’s camp in the Punjab, each with his plot for winning a kingdom or crushing a rival, Chandragupta Maurya, an exile Chandragupta Maurya. from the Gangetic valley, seems to have played a somewhat ignominious part. He tried to tempt the wearied Greeks on the banks of the Beas with schemes of conquest in the rich south-eastern provinces; but, having personally offended their leader, he had to fly the camp (326 B.C.). In the confused years which followed, he managed with the aid of plundering bands to form a kingdom on the ruins of the Nanda dynasty in Magadha or Behar (321 B.C.). He seized the capital, Pataliputra, the modern Patna, established himself firmly in the Gangetic valley, and compelled the north-western principalities, Greeks and natives alike, to acknowledge his suzerainty. While, therefore, Seleucus was winning his way to the Syrian monarchy during the eleven years which followed Alexander’s death, Chandragupta was building up an empire in northern India. Seleucus reigned in Syria from 312 to 280 B.C., Chandragupta in the Gangetic valley from 321 to 296 B.C. In 312 B.C. the power of both had been consolidated, and the two new sovereignties were brought face to face. In that year Seleucus, having recovered Babylon, proceeded to re-establish his authority in Bactria (q.v.) and the Punjab. In the latter province he found the Greek influence decayed. Alexander had left behind a mixed force of Greeks and Indians at Taxila. No sooner was he gone than the Indians rose and slew the Greek governor; the Macedonians massacred the Indians; a new governor, sent by Alexander, murdered the friendly Punjab prince, Porus, and was himself driven out of the country by the advance of Chandragupta from the Gangetic valley. Seleucus, after a war with Chandragupta, determined to ally himself with the new power in India rather than to oppose it. In return for five hundred elephants, he ceded the Greek settlements in the Punjab and the Kabul valley, gave his daughter to Chandragupta in marriage, and stationed an ambassador, Megasthenes, at the Gangetic court (302 B.C.). Chandragupta became familiar to the Greeks as Sandrocottus, king of the Prasii; his capital, Pataliputra was called by them Palimbothra. On the other hand, the names of Greeks and kings of Grecian dynasties appear in the rock inscriptions, under Indian forms.

Previous to the time of Megasthenes the Greek idea of India was a very vague one. Their historians spoke of two classes of Indians—certain mountainous tribes who dwelt in northern Afghanistan under the Caucasus or Hindu Kush, and a maritime race living on the coast of Baluchistan. Of the India of modern geography lying beyond the Indus they practically knew nothing. It was this India to the east of the Indus that Megasthenes opened up to the western world. He describes the classification of the people, dividing them, however, into seven castes instead of four, namely, philosophers, husbandmen, shepherds, artisans, soldiers, inspectors and the counsellors of the king. The philosophers were the Brahmans, and the prescribed stages of their life are indicated. Megasthenes draws a distinction between the Brahmans (Βραχμᾶνες) and the Sarmanae (Σαρμάναι), from which some scholars have inferred that the Buddhist Sarmanas were a recognized class fifty years before the council of Asoka. But the Sarmanae also include Brahmans in the first and third stages of their life as students and forest recluses. The inspectors or sixth class of Megasthenes have been identified with Asoka’s Mahamatra and his Buddhist inspectors of morals.

The Greek ambassador observed with admiration the absence of slavery in India, the chastity of the women, and the courage of the men. In valour they excelled all other Asiatics; they required no locks to their doors; above all, no Indian was ever known to tell a lie. Sober and industrious, good farmers and skilful artisans, they scarcely ever had recourse to a lawsuit, and lived peaceably under their native chiefs. The kingly government is portrayed almost as described in Manu, with its hereditary castes of councillors and soldiers. Megasthenes mentions that India was divided into one hundred and eighteen kingdoms; some of which, such as that of the Prasii under Chandragupta, exercised suzerain powers. The village system is well described, each little rural unit seeming to be an independent republic. Megasthenes remarked the exemption of the husbandmen (Vaisyas) from war and public services, and enumerates the dyes, fibres, fabrics and products (animal, vegetable and mineral) of India. Husbandry depended on the periodical rains; and forecasts of the weather, with a view to “make adequate provision against a coming deficiency,” formed a special duty of the Brahmans. “The philosopher who errs in his predictions observes silence for the rest of his life.”

Before the year 300 B.C. two powerful monarchies had thus begun to act upon the Brahmanism of northern India, from the east and from the west. On the east, in the Gangetic valley, Chandragupta (320-296 B.C.) firmly consolidated the dynasty which during the next century produced Asoka (264-228 or 227 B.C.), and established Buddhism throughout India. On the west, the Seleucids diffused Greek influences, and sent forth Graeco-Bactrian expeditions to the Punjab. Antiochus Theos (grandson of Seleucus Nicator) and Asoka (grandson of Chandragupta), who ruled these two monarchies in the 3rd century B.C., made a treaty with each other (256). In the next century Eucratides, king of Bactria, conquered as far as Alexander’s royal city of Patala, and possibly sent expeditions into Cutch and Gujarat, 181-161 B.C. Of the Graeco-Indian monarchs, Menander (q.v.) advanced farthest into north-western India, and his coins are found from Kabul, near which he probably had his capital, as far as Muttra on the Jumna.[1] The Buddhist dynasty of Chandragupta profoundly modified the religion of northern India from the east; the Seleucid empire, with its Bactrian and later offshoots, deeply influenced the science and art of Hindustan from the west.

Brahman astronomy owed much to the Greeks, and what the Buddhists were to the architecture of northern India, that the Greeks were to its sculpture. Greek faces and profiles constantly occur in ancient Buddhist statuary, Greek influence on art. and enrich almost all the larger museums in India. The purest specimens have been found in the North-west frontier province (the ancient Gandhara) and the Punjab, where the Greeks settled in greatest force. As we proceed eastward from the Punjab, the Greek type begins to fade. Purity of outline gives place to lusciousness of form. In the

  1. In 1909 an inscription in Brahmi characters was discovered near Bhilsa in Central India recording the name of a Greek, Heliodorus. He describes himself as a worshipper of Bhagavata ( = Vishnu), and states that he had come from Taxila in the name of the great king Antialcidas, who is known from his coins to have lived c. 170 B.C.